Bring It Back: FreeSpace
The Freespace series was developed by Volition, Inc. You may have heard of Volition before (or maybe not) due to the success of several of their games, including both the Red Faction series (which hasn’t been doing so well lately) and the Saints Row series (which attained good sales with the release of Saints Row: The Third). Volition’s admirable pedigree began with Descent: Freespace – The Great War. And let me tell you, it was great, both in gameplay and scope.
After the first dog-fighting space-opera FreeSpace, came the expansion Silent Threat, which provided additional missions and was released within the same year as the original (1998) – talk about faith in the product. With such a fast turnaround, Volition had to already be into development of the expansion before the original released. Almost one year after Silent Threat, FreeSpace 2 hit market shelves (there wasn’t any digital distribution in those days, kids). All three games received widespread critical acclaim.
When Volition released the FreeSpace source code, it was clear that they wouldn’t be able to develop FreeSpace any longer (the reason for this is THQ bought Volition, and the FreeSpace licenses were still with Interplay. The prospect of a future without FreeSpace upset many of the dedicated fans; however, releasing the source code was also seen as the best possible outcome, short of Volition releasing quality sequels. In the wake of the source code release, there were many mods spread across the internet. Thus, the FreeSpace Source Code Project was born (currently, it is at version 3.6.12). The purpose of the project was to standardize changes and create a single source for everything FreeSpace.
What Made Freespace Great
While the story may sound cliché in a nutshell, the nuances and details made the FreeSpace universe come alive in a way that few games are capable of. Essentially, the human race discovered jump nodes that facilitate extremely fast travel over great distances. During humanity’s expansion, the Vasudans enter the scene and a war breaks out between them. Amidst this war, a new enemy appears. The Shivans are technologically superior to both the humans and Vasudans, who engage the hostile aliens together in a desperate attempt to stay alive.
Like I said, an overview of the story doesn’t sound very original. You
need to play the game in order to understand just how impressive the FreeSpace story really is. It would take pages and pages to do it justice (and nobody would read it). Suffice it to say that the FreeSpace writers took the H.G. Wells story of alien invasion to a completely new level, and did so in fine fashion.
Before every mission, there is a briefing that details objectives and highlights particular difficulties. You’ll also have the option of choosing which ship you want to fly and customize the weapon load out. FreeSpace was designed to play with a joystick, but is just as playable with a mouse and keyboard (you might have to fiddle with the controls a little though).
The dog-fighting in FreeSpace is second to none. You have direct control over how much energy is used to power your weapons, shield, and engines. More power to any one of the systems means better performance. The object selection scheme is confusing at first, but is rather efficient and works well. For example, pressing Alt-m when an object is selected will match your speed with that of the object. Luckily, the skippable tutorials teach you all of the buttons you need to know.
Perhaps the most fun to be had with FreeSpace is the multiplayer aspect. In your profile, stats are accumulated, such as kills, accuracy, etc. Taking to the skies/space with a few buddies and blowing enemy ships up is extremely satisfying.
The Various Mods
You can visit the FreeSpace Source Code Project site and see all of the mods for yourself.
- The Babylon Project
- Beyond the Red Line
- Wing Commander Saga
- Fate of the Galaxy
Should You Play Freespace?
As you may have noticed, this Bring It
Should you play FreeSpace? Absolutely. It is, in many regards, still the defining space-combat game. If there is any part of you that thinks hopping into a space superiority fighter and shooting down bogies with competent wingmen would be fun, you should check it out.